Stateside Podcast: Pigs vs. Freaks
As families across Michigan prepare their dinner tables for a family feast, fans in Ann Arbor are gearing up for the annual post-Thanksgiving showdown between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines. Although the big game isn’t on Michigan soil this year, the folks at the Michigan History Center were reminded of a different football tradition that used to take place in another rival territory: East Lansing.
In the 1970s, a new football tradition was born when a group of Michigan State University students had an unlikely run-in with the police. According to the Michigan History Center's Rachel Clark, the story began with a 9-1-1 call in about a group of people playing football on the field at East Lansing High School.
“Someone called the cops and said that some "hippies" were trespassing," Clark said. "So East Lansing police arrive and tell them to stop playing and that they have to leave. And the young people refuse. And they actually not only refuse, but they challenge the East Lansing police officers to a game and the officers accept."
The story didn’t end there. With help from local organizers and a non-profit named “Freaks Sports Enterprises”, a game was organized and tickets were sold for the town to come out and see the so-called hippies play the police in a “Freaks vs. Pigs” charity football game. The first game drew a crowd of 700 people to East Lansing High School, and from there an annual tradition was born. From 1970 to 1977, the “freaks” and the “pigs” would play against each other in the name of charity and good sportsmanship.
“In the '71 game, actually, because of the size of the crowd in the first one, went to Spartan Stadium. So the 1971 game was played in front of a crowd of about 20,000 people at Spartan Stadium,” Clark said. “You get unions, police departments, Michigan State University are all donating their time.”
The last "Pigs vs. Freaks" game was played in 1977. But Clark said it's a good example of how two opposing groups could find common ground in a moment of political division and unrest.
“This football challenge was actually a really good opportunity and everybody saw it as that, as a way to show that these two groups of people can coexist and work together and do something really great for a great charity,” Clark said.